Thursday, April 30, 2015

Match-Ups in the Second Round

The first match-up that was decided for the second round was the Anaheim Ducks, who swept the Winnipeg Jets, taking on the Calgary Flames, who dispatched of the Vancouver Canucks in six games.

Out of the Western Conference match-ups in the second round, this one is the closest in the hockey pool for picks, as the Ducks have a slight edge, 78-61, over the Flames, as they were the two favourites from their opening round match-up.

Between the two teams, Sean Monahan of the Flames is the favourite player, having been picked 13 times out of the 36 teams in the pool.  On the other side, it was goalie Frederik Andersen and defenseman Cam Fowler, who were each picked 12 times, leading the Ducks.  Having a goaltender pick up top, suggests that more teams were thinking the Ducks will push through to the Cup Finals and he would be a good source of points.

Speaking of scoring, after the first round audit, we see Corey Perry and Andersen on top of the heap, as they both came out of round one with 8 points, while on the Calgary side, Jiri Hudler has 7 points, including a winner already.

This has some real potential to be a grinding series, but how much will depth play a part of this one?

This series will start tonight, in Anaheim, an 8pm MT start at the Honda Center and it looks like Sportsnet will be taking care of this one at the national level.

For the Central Division title, we'll see the Chicago Blackhawks take on the Minnesota Wild in a series that has some potential for grinding the rough edges to a smooth surface.  The Blackhawks snuck past the Nashville Predators in the opening round, going six games, while the Wild didn't exactly have an easy test either, beating the St. Louis Blues in six games as well.

The Wild were severe underdogs against the Blues in the opening round and they'll be underdogs yet again against the Blackhawks, as the pool selections are 92-26 for Chicago.  This didn't deter Minnesota in the opening round then and it likely won't now either.

The Blackhawks have the most popular player in the pool this year, Patrick Kane, as his 26 selections ties the entire pool for Wild picks.  It was explained once before, but it should be said again... Kane wasn't expected to play again until late in this round, according to the initial prognosis.  On the Wild side, Mikko Koivu has six selections and Marco Scandella has five selections, the two not even make up half of what Kane represents.

The leader in scoring between the two teams, Minnesota's Devan Dubnyk, who won 4 games and added a shutout for 10 points, taken once in the pool, while Chicago leans on defenseman Duncan Keith, who has 9 points, including 2 GWGs, and he has been taken nine times in the pool.

The Wild are riding a hot goalie, while the Blackhawks number one hasn't seen nearly as much puck, so do the Blackhawks have enough in their roster to overcome such a hot goalie?  It's the trick of the playoffs, right?

This series will start on Friday night in Chicago, a 7:30pm MT start at the United Center, and Sportsnet will take care of Game 1, CBC will have Games 2 & 3, and then it will be Sportsnet the rest of the way.

The New York Rangers got through one of the league's top flight superstars in Sidney Crosby in round one, beating the Pittsburgh Penguins in five games and their reward for that?  Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals, who slipped past the New York Islanders in seven games.  It's no picnic for the Capitals either, who saw a great performance from Jaroslav Halak and then get to shoot on Henrik Lundqvist next.

As you could probably assume, the Rangers are the favourite in this series, as they were the favourite to get through the Eastern Conference, while the Capitals were almost deadlocked with their first round opponent in selections, an 88-57 edge to New York.

Lundqvist is the most popular player in the East, taken 18 times between 36 teams, while Derek Stepan was another popular player in the pool, taken 16 times.  For the Capitals, both Nicklas Backstrom and Matt Niskanen drew equal interest, taken 10 times each this year.

Lundqvist and Backstrom appear once again in this preview, as they lead their teams in scoring as well, which means those who took these guys are getting good bang for their buck.  The Rangers keeper leads all players in this series with 8 points, while the Washington pivot has 7 points, including a winner.

The Rangers have been off for a few extra days more than the Capitals, but they are running into injury concerns with the loss of Mats Zuccarello in Game 5, which will impact the team speed of the blueshirts.

Games 1, 3 & 4 are all scheduled to on CBC, while Game 2 is locked in on Sportsnet and everything after that is still to be determined.  What we do know is that this series starts tonight, a 5:30pm MT faceoff.

The Canadiens had to wait until Wednesday night to see who they played, after knocking off the Ottawa Senators in six games on the weekend, which was a grinding series.  The Tampa Bay Lightning just came off their first round match-up against the Detroit Red Wings and should be still warm and ready to go, when they face off against the Canadiens in Montreal on Friday night.

Capping off the Eastern Conference, the two favourites from the Atlantic Division move on to face each other, but Tampa Bay holds the advantage in the selection decisions, 86-78, which comes as somewhat of a surprise.  The Lightning were not a very good road team in the regular season, but did still manage to win one in Detroit in the opening round, so it will be very interesting to see how they fare in the second round.

The most popular player in this series is Montreal defenseman P.K. Subban, who was taken 18 times, ending up as one of the most popular players on the sheet, period.  The Habs only had two players taken more than 10 times, as goalie Carey Price also had 12 picks in the pool as well.  For the Lightning, the picks were very spread out, as their leaders in picks were Ondrej Palat, Ryan Callahan and Valtteri Filppula, each picking up 12 nods.

As for scoring leaders into this series, we look at the goalies, Ben Bishop and Price, leading the way, 11 and 10 points each.  This is fitting, since it will likely be the goaltending that ends up being the reason why one of these two teams moves on to the Eastern Conference Finals.  Tyler Johnson is the best ranked skater in the pool, finishing the Red Wings with 9 points, while Montreal didn't really have much of a scorer to speak of.

To no one's surprise, I'm sure, CBC will look after this series, starting on Friday night, from the Bell Centre.  These two teams will clash and it should be a very high-paced series from start to finish.

PhotobucketAnd let's not forget why we're all here... the prize money!  There are 36 teams in the pool this year and that means there is $360 in the kitty for prizing and given the odd nature of the final tally, we'll have three prizes... $300 for 1st place, $50 for 2nd place and 3rd place will earn their money back... a free entry into this year's pool, as such.

There you have it... good luck to those still in the race and well, thanks for entering to those who are not.

Pool Outlook for Columbus

The Columbus Blue Jackets were not without their expectations going into the 2015 season and rightfully so.  Their number one goalie just came off a Vezina Trophy season, they have some budding young superstars and they belong in the Eastern Conference, which can swing about any way at any given time.

For the Jackets, despite an All-Star Game season and some All-Star performances this season on their roster, the Jackets fell short of a wild card spot in the Eastern Conference race and are left with a few question marks, but I think they are not too far off where they need to be at this point and missing the playoffs is only a speed bump in their progression.

The core of the Blue Jackets roster isn't very old, nor are they leaning on very many aged veterans on their squad, so if there are bodies to replace, it will be more of a case that they didn't fit the scheme going forward and the transition may be somewhat easier than what some other teams are going through.  Going into this offseason, the oldest player signed on to a deal is 33 years old, which is right in the thick of their prime.

The Jackets were a little less popular than the Flyers, who's Outlook dropped yesterday, having 13 players on their NHL roster, which were either on an active pool roster or dropped at some point during the season.  It would take some digging, but I would wager that those numbers would be close to a record for them in this pool over the years.  Unlike the Flyers, only three of those players were dropped, so they did have some staying power in the year, for sure.

We all knew who Nick Foligno was at the beginning of the season... the son of a former NHL'er, went through the Ottawa system under the shadow of his recognizable father and one that had really yet to pop in his own NHL career.  In the 2015 season, Foligno popped, made his own name in Columbus, went to the All-Star Game and had a pretty good year.  Overall, he finished 23rd in pool scoring, scoring 31 goals and 73 points in 79 games played and in this year's hockey pool draft, he was picked up in the Waiver Draft, helping Wes climb the ranks into 3rd place and his first money finish.  That's a pretty good finish.

Ryan Johansen was a restricted free agent holdout through training camp, signing not long before the season started and that didn't seem to matter, as he wasn't far behind Foligno for team scoring, picking up 26 goals and 71 points for the Jackets, which was good enough for 28th overall in pool scoring.  The Jackets had a couple more pool worthy forwards in 2015, Scott Hartnell had an up and down year, 60 points in 77 games, while Cam Atkinson quietly picked up 40 points in 78 games.

On defense, scoring wasn't too much of an issue, as they had two definite pool players and acquired one that could have been, if he played the way he did all year for the Jackets.  Jack Johnson had a great year, ranking 26th among blueliners with 40 points in 79 games, while David Savard emerged as a pool option, with 36 points in all 82 games.  Kevin Connauton, acquired from Dallas early in the year, sparingly played eight games with the Stars before being traded, then exploding for 19 points in the back half of the year, barely missing the cut of pool worthy defensemen, sitting in 95th in the position.

Last year, you didn't mention the Blue Jackets without mentioning Sergei Bobrovsky and thanks to his injury problems this year, it is kind of the same, but you connect the team missing the playoffs with their number one goalie missing time.  A big minute goalie like Bobrovsky in 2014 only ranked 21st in goalie minutes in 2015, but he still managed 30 wins and 66 points this year, good enough for 16th in goalie scoring.  Still a good year, but it wasn't Vezina numbers in the year.

2016 Pool Outlook

If you were playing wait-and-see with the Blue Jackets in 2015, you probably saw enough for some bigger expectations in 2016 and the only thing in their way is some more bad/dumb luck.  With the Blue Jackets this year, there isn't a great deal of mystery with this club, which I think will breed far more familiarity, which is good for us poolies.  We've seen the names, we've seen the results, now we know what we can expect, right?

Barely hanging on to rookie status for the Blue Jackets is William Karlsson, who they acquired from Anaheim in the James Wisniewski deal at the deadline, he chipped in with 5 points this season and likely earned some consideration, as a 23-year old next season.  Don't forget Oliver Bjorkstrand, the Danish sensation coming out of the WHL next season,  This kid showed some real flair at the World Juniors and has some North American numbers to back it up.  How about Kerby Rychel?  The 2013 1st round pick spent this past season in the AHL, appearing in five NHL games, picking up 3 assists.  He'll get a long look too.

Free Agency and the Salary Cap

Restricted free agency is where the concern lies for the Jackets, as their unrestricted free agents were not impact players, as a whole.

The RFA crop in Columbus doesn't have the upside, like it did last Summer, but forward Matt Calvert is nothing to sneeze at, neither is defenseman Cody Goloubef or forward Jeremy Morin, each getting their fair share of NHL experience in the year.  These players won't be out to break the bank, but we all know how important team depth is and that's where these guys will definitely start next season.

Goalie Curtis McElhinney highlights the crop of players hitting the free market, but with four goalies already on NHL contracts going into the Summer, he would have needed to make a lasting impact for a return, even for the small amount he makes.  Forwards Mark Letestu, Jack Skille and Brian Gibbons were likely looked towards for more, but fell down the depth chart and are likely replaceable.

The Jackets are in great shape against the salary cap, as they have 31 players signed on with cap hits published and they are just a shade under $3 million to the good, under the projected cap ceiling of $71.1 million.  Take a couple goalies away, you can drop eight forwards... boom!  Tons of room.  They could be a fun team to watch this Summer.

Needs at the 2015 Entry Draft

This team is stocked up with quality forwards, even the ones waiting in the wings.  With the 8th overall pick, I think they go with a defenseman, mostly because the depth in goal in this draft, isn't quite as good as the skaters.  I don't see them being in a big rush for a defenseman to join the ranks, so possibly a kid like NCAA product Zach Werenski fits the bill, a University of Michigan product, has some good size and ranks well among the other prospects.  Maybe he gets a boost, out of positional drafting.

What I Said Last Year, At This Time...

I'm not going to go out of my way to predict that the Blue Jackets will make any astronomical improvements in their team or their game, but not making the playoffs next year wouldn't be the end of the world for the team. This team, at its core, is still really young and could use the adversity to grow as a team. The Blue Jackets will make some savvy moves in the off-season, they'll fill some gaps and they'll compete again in the Eastern Conference. Will they make the playoffs next year? I might lean to no, just because there are some teams that will improve a little bit more, but it will be awfully close... all things being equal.

I will definitely consider that one a win, as the Jackets didn't make any astronomical improvements, even though some of their players did.  The adversity is something that they can use going forward and something that definitely will help them grow.  They didn't make the playoffs, teams in the East did improve more than them, as they did fall off a bit.  Yes, I think that's about right from me last year.

The real heel of this team is on the blueline, maybe not so much from an offensive standpoint, even though it may not be as solid as some teams, it just may be as a whole.  If the Jackets can shore up their blueline over the Summer, I think there is a real chance that they can push for that wild card spot in the East.  It will be tough and a pretty tough go in the East, but I think their core has what it takes to be a real contender for at least a playoff spot and all they need is to get into the show to be effective.

Bolts Bounce Red Wings, Onwards to Round 2

 photo islandersbooted.gifThe beauty of Game 7's is that one team is leaving the playoffs, via the boot!  The Red Wings put up a pretty good fight against the Lightning last night, but Ben Bishop, the Tampa goalie, was up to task, making 31 saves for the shutout and he added an assist on the empty net goal, which made it a 2-0 final in the end.

Bishop finished off with a 5-point night in the game, the only Lightning player that was notable in Game 7, which had also made him the best player in the opening round of the playoffs, with 11 points.  It is very exciting stuff for the four teams that had picked him in the Playoff Pool.

The Lightning now go on to face the Montreal Canadiens in the second round, while the Detroit Red Wings are left to figure out what went wrong in their playoff season and start preparing for the off-season a little earlier than some.

With the elimination, the Red Wings only lost 21 selections, as they were not the favourite to move on to the second round in the pool.  Pavel Datsyuk was the most popular Red Wings player on the sheet, taken five times, while Gustav Nyquist and Justin Abdelkader were taken four times each.

In terms of scoring, Datsyuk was the best Wings player on the sheet, picking up 6 points, including a winner in these playoffs, followed by Tomas Tatar and Riley Sheahan, who each had 4 points.

And that's what we have for Round 1 of the playoffs.

So, our first round leader in the Playoff Pool is newcomer Sairosh, who picked up 105 points and leaves the first round with 19 active players left for the next round.  The only team that he lost in the West during opening round was the St. Louis Blues and he is carrying a lot of stock in the Calgary/Anaheim series, which is upcoming, so he's likely hoping for a high-scoring, 7-game series there.

Tony D. had a good push in the opening round, finishing with 103 points, but his team took a real kicking in the elimination process, as his team only has 14 players left in the second round.  John S. and David C. each finished the round with 100 points as well, but they are also shorthanded, now with 13 and 15 players, respectively.

After all the eliminations were complete, only four pool teams have 21 players left and two of those teams belong to Scott G., but even with all those players, his best team is in 21st place, 19 points behind 1st place.  Clayton is the highest team in the standings with 21 players, as his team is in 14th, 15 points behind 1st place.

Game-Winning Goals
New Playoffs Game Winner ButtonTony C. still leads the pool in bonus points, finishing the opening round with 9 GWG's to his team's credit, while Nic L. sits in 2nd place in the race with 8 GWG's.  Seven teams sit below with 7 GWG's, so the race remains quite tight in that race.  I really should have a prize for the bonus points, but it never occurs to me until I start writing these pieces.

Three players finished the opening round with a pair of bonus points each and only two remain in the pool going forward.  Duncan Keith of the Blackhawks and Tyler Johnson of the Lightning each potted a couple and they will be key players going forward, as Keith was taken nine times, while Johnson was taken five times.

Stay tuned to the blog later on Thursday for a preview of the second round and a prize money announcement!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Player Notes in the Playoffs (Apr 29)

With the schedule the way it goes, the last day of the first round of the playoffs is today, two day later from the first Game 7 we've seen. The second round will now likely start tomorrow or Friday, as we await word, but it likely has a lot to do with who plays the Montreal Canadiens in the next round.

The Tampa Bay Lightning hold somewhat of an advantage, if there ever was one in this series, as they head home for the deciding game and they won Game 6 in Detroit to force this one game to move on.

I don't think there will be any surprises in net for the final game, as it should be Ben Bishop playing host to Petr Mrazek.

If the hopes of the Playoff Pool are to mean anything in this series, Tampa Bay would be the favourite to win, as there wasn't a whole lot of stock placed on Detroit going into the playoffs.  To the Red Wings credit, they have hung in there quite well, even if they lost their grips on the series in Game 6.

The Red Wings blueline took a kicking on Tuesday night, with the news of Niklas Kronwall's suspension and on Wednesday morning, the news doesn't get much better, as Marek Zidlicky was not on the ice for the morning skate and the coaching staff confirmed shortly after that the veteran Czech defender will not be in the lineup for Game 7.  Two huge holes that will be filled by Jakub Kindl and Andrei Marchenko, neither with the playoff experience of the two they're replacing, but the Wings are hoping for a lot more gusto.

Zidlicky was taken twice in the pool in Box 21, so there are a couple teams that are going to miss out on some ice-time, but if neither Zidlicky or Kronwall are going to play, these two teams may be losing their defenseman for the balance of the playoffs as well.

An updated list of injuries can be found here.

Pool Outlook for Philadelphia

Looking at the talent the Philadelphia Flyers had going into the off-season last year, you would have thought that it should have been enough to make the playoffs again in 2015, despite not really doing a whole lot in that same off-season, to help some of their star players out.

The Flyers had a couple of superstars up front, who could seemingly score on a whim, they had a handful of talent, just about to blossom into strong NHL players, some decent veteran defense and a goaltender that had regained a good portion of his rookie season confidence.  Where could it have possibly have gone wrong?

The Flyers walked a fine line between some very good play and some very poor play and if you looked at their season, they may have been drunk when they walked that line, as they fell over into some stretches of poor play, inconsistent offense and porous team defense.  They finished 22nd overall in goals for, despite having a couple of big scorers on their team and 24th in goals against, thanks to a number of injuries on their blueline.

It was a lot of things that someone really can't predict, looking at the team roster at the beginning of the season, taking it at face value.

The final roster list of the Philadelphia Flyers was littered with hockey pool participation, as 14 players on their final roster had either an active spot on a hockey pool team or was dropped earlier in the season.  Four of those 14 players were dropped, including Radko Gudas, who never actually played for the Flyers in the year, rather was dealt at the deadline from Tampa, while being injured.

There's very little at fault with Jakub Voracek's season, as he was 1 point shy of being a true point-per-game player for the Flyers in the 2015 season, picking up 22 goals and 81 points in all 82 games for the club.  In the year of the goaltender, he was one of the few forwards that was truly out there making an impact on a nightly basis.  Voracek finished 13th overall in pool scoring, 5th among all forwards in the league.  I suppose, if you were to find one fault, relative to the Flyers season overall, it was that he was just a +1 in the plus/minus this year, especially with only 33 power play points.

Let's not forget about Claude Giroux, who had a pretty good season of his own too, finishing 24th overall in pool scoring and 12th among forwards, thanks to a 73-point season in 81 games.  It wasn't close to his best year, but still pretty darn good.  The Flyers also had a few more pool worthy forwards on their side, as Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier all finished in the top 184 forwards.  Consistency may have been their biggest downfall, as they really didn't produce all year long.

Offense from the defense was quite limited as well, as Mark Streit was left holding the bag for the Flyers for the better part of the season.  Streit finished 9th in defenseman scoring (52 points in 81 games), but Michael Del Zotto, who got off to a great start, fizzled off and was nowhere to be seen down the stretch, despite finishing 46th among blueliners in scoring with 32 points.

From the games that I had seen, Steve Mason was not the Achilles heel of the Flyers year, but when you're getting hung out to dry on a number of occasions, it should be allowed to take a few nights/afternoons off, because it is mentally draining to play behind an inconsistent team.  Mason finished 30th among goalies in pool scoring with 18 wins and 45 points, just below a point per 60 minutes this year, but I wouldn't pin that on him.  Let's not forget about Ray Emery, who had 10 wins and 20 points, he still finished as a pool worthy backup, counting on that you had picked up some really good skaters to supplant his lack of minutes played.

2016 Pool Outlook

Looking at the Flyers roster going forward for the off-season and into the 2016 season, you still wonder how they got to be so bad in 2015, but you resign yourself to that fact and move forward.  The team has already relieved their head coach and will look to a new system, so there will be some interest in which direction the team goes. but with some of their more solid players still signed on for 2016, I think they'll still be a decent team to pick from in the hockey pool draft.

The Flyers have not been historically known as a team that excels in the freshmen department, as they have never had a player win the Calder Trophy as the league's best rookie.  They have a few players that may get some long looks in the 2016 season, but no one really jumps out as a player that could help you win some extra money in next year's hockey pool, in the rookie scoring race.  If you're going to tab anyone, maybe have a peek at Petr Straka, who played in three games for the Flyers, picking up a pair of assists.

Free Agency and the Salary Cap

Unrestricted free agency may play a role in the Flyers' off-season, but it won't be the role that helps them out of some salary cap binds.  Ray Emery, Ryan White and Carlo Colaiacovo are the three biggest names on the list, heading to the open market, while Chris Vande Velde was the games played leader of those players unsigned.  The Flyers are not opening much space up with those guys off the books, nor are they losing much identity.

Restricted free agency won't be nearly as dreadful, but it does open up one big question... what to do with Michael Del Zotto?  Did he do enough to earn another deal?  Probably.  He gets a new deal out of necessity or a lack of depth, but it couldn't be that big of a deal.

The Flyers are the first of these non-playoff teams to have an overflowing roster of players, according to the projected $71.1 million cap ceiling.  Yes, the team has 38 players signed on already for next season, two of which don't have their cap hits published, and they are $7.4 million over the projection.  You can quickly pare away Chris Pronger's $4.9 million, then cut away another 14 players from the active roster and they'd be good, but there is still a lot of work that has to happen in Philadelphia, before they become a great team again.

Needs at the 2015 Entry Draft

The Flyers have been trying to address their needs on the blueline through the draft and arguably, they are building up a pretty good stable of players, but they just haven't been NHL ready yet.  I think there is a good chance that they stay the course on defense, trying to find that gem that can make that jump sooner rather than later.  I believe that means that Ivan Provorov, who has leapt into the eye of many in Brandon, becomes their guy.  Provorov has put up some dazzling numbers in the WHL this year and he could be that kind of player that the Flyers need, especially down the road after an aging Streit leaves.

What I Said Last Year, At This Time...

With that being said, the Flyers, who finished 3rd in the Metropolitan Division in 2014, should improve on those numbers, thanks to an unlikely drop in points at the beginning of the season... like they did in 2014. I would imagine that lessons were learned, capabilities of some are now known and new management will pump some new blood into this team. I see the Flyers contending for the Division title in 2015 and then make a stronger push into the playoffs. Philadelphia is still a move or two away from being a true Cup contender in 2015, but I wouldn't say that that move or those moves are out of the question.

You can only imagine my disappointment in these Flyers from the prediction that I had offered up last year at this time.  I even went so far as to pick a couple of those inconsistent Flyers forwards as players in my hockey pool team and I think with a bit more consistency in their game, I would have made it into the money.  Nevertheless, they didn't push for the playoffs, they really didn't even make many moves to try and make that push, so really... falling flat on their face was actually a likely option, just one I didn't see after last season.

As for my prediction on their 2016 season, you might think that I would be a bit more hesitant with this team going forward, but I still think they have a lot of good pieces in play and maybe the coaching change would go a long way into moving some of these players further up the ranks.  Vincent Lecavalier being the number one guy, who probably suffered the most, and was most vocal about it, might be looking to rebound next season, if he's still around.  I think with this core group of guys: Giroux, Voracek, Simmonds, Schenn, Couturier, Streit and Mason, this team can work their way back into the playoff picture in 2016 and they would be a good team to pick from again.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Kronwall to Sit Game 7

A questionable hit on Monday night went under review with the NHL Department of Player Safety and came back with some bad news for the Detroit Red Wings. Niklas Kronwall has been suspended for one game, Game 7 between the Red Wings and the Lightning, for his hit on Tampa forward Nikita Kucherov.

The video, which I have embedded below, gives a very good explanation comparing what Kronwall had done on Monday night to one of his many hits he has been come to be known for, standing players up at their own blueline, getting Kronwalled.

This suspension may not have any direct loss of points to the hockey pool, as no one had taken Kronwall in Box 20, the first defenseman box in the Eastern Conference, but this would have a pretty hefty effect on how the Red Wings play on Wednesday night, when they play the Lightning to see who goes on to face the Montreal Canadiens in the second round of the playoffs.

In the first six games of this series, Kronwall has 2 assists.

An updated list of injuries can be found here.

Pool Outlook for New Jersey

I don't think there was a lot of hope for the Devils going into the 2015 season and expectations had to be kept to a minimum for the most part.  They showed some life here and there, but their lack of offense (28th in the league in goals for) really diminished the impact of a team that was in the middle of the road for keeping pucks out of their own net (15th in the league in goals against).

Saying that things are dire in the swamp, might be a little out of hand now, less so than at the beginning of the year, because there were a lot of moves and decisions made that really felt like they were reopening the funny farm at the Prudential Center.

Nevertheless, when the trade deadline came around, the team was already doomed to miss the playoffs, they were able to move some assets for the future, but that future still looks rather murky at this point.  Where do the Devils go from here?

By the end of the regular season or just after the trade deadline, there were only three active New Jersey players in the 23-team hockey pool and they did finish 1-2-3 in pool scoring, which shows that the pool had a keen eye on who was still doing something on this team.

Season 2 of the Cory Schneider show was by no means a bust, as the New Jersey Devils fed him as many minutes as he could possibly handle and he did what he could to keep them in most games, but it just wasn't to be in 2015, as he only managed 26 wins, 5 shutouts and 2 assists for 64 points this year, 53rd overall in pool scoring, 19th best among all goalies.  For a team that finished 25th overall, Schneider played his ass off and if he had a bit more help on his team this year, he could have made a solid run.

Surprisingly, the Devils did have five forwards that were actually pool worthy, albeit, only two of them were still selected by the end of the year.  Adam Henrique led the bunch with 43 points in 75 games, Mike Cammalleri had 42 points in 68 games, Patrik Elias and Scott Gomez had 34 points each and Steve Bernier was near the bottom of the barrel with 32 points.  It's true, no one lept of the page, but if the pool smoothed itself out among all 23 teams, these are the players that would have been in your 7th or 8th forward.

On the blueline, the Devils had a couple of defensemen worthy of the cut at the end of the season, but you could make the argument for a couple more, if they were to have stayed healthy through the entire season.  Making the cut would be Adam Larsson and Andy Greene, finishing with 25 and 24 points, respectively.  Yes, they were closer to the bottom of the pool ranks, but they made it.  Eric Gelinas and Damon Severson missed 21 and 31 games and had comparable scoring rates to their teammates, which would have put them in the conversation.  Don't forget them when you're picking defensemen late next season.

Beyond Schneider, Keith Kinkaid got a pretty good lesson in backup goaltending and got shelled with it.  He gets a mention for his efforts, but projecting him going forward won't make him into a pool worthy goalie.

2016 Pool Outlook

Looking at where the team stands going into the off-season, there is nothing terribly special about the roster that they have signed on at the moment.  Beyond Schneider, the Devils are going to be going with a roster of depth players for your hockey pool draft, because they have no bonafide offensive catalyst.  Mike Cammalleri may be the most dangerous player on their roster, but even he needs someone to feed him the puck in shooting positions.  I wouldn't have the Devils projected very high right now and it would take a miracle acquisition to change that, I'm thinking.

I know what you're thinking... do the Devils even know what a rookie is anymore?  They have yet to sign any of their key 2014 draft picks yet and I don't think they are in any rush to do so either.  Okay, they might know what a good rookie is, since they did dress Damon Severson enough last year to make a difference, but I can't see any youngsters making the jump for Jersey any time soon.

Free Agency and the Salary Cap

If the Devils choose to infuse their lineup with youth, now is the time to do it.  Scott Gomez, Steve Bernier, Michael Ryder, Jordin Tootoo, Martin Havlat, Peter Harrold, Mark Fraser and Bryce Salvador... all unrestricted free agents this Summer.  Those are a lot of gaps that you can push with youth, so it's something to consider.

As for RFA's, the real headliners are on defense, where both Adam Larsson and Eric Gelinas are in need of new deals and they are more than capable of getting reasonable deals, thanks to good years.

Right now, the current projection stands at $71.1 million and the Devils have 23 players signed on for 2016 and still have $16.2 million in cap space before the ceiling.  You can take away a deal like Ryane Clowe's, since he may not play again and things get even easier.  It will be hard for the Devils to attract a name to town, but a youth movement may serve them well.

Needs at the 2015 Entry Draft

Speaking about needing an offensive catalyst up front earlier in the post, leads me to believe that this is where they should be addressing, in terms of needs in their lineup.  Mitch Marner appears to be the next best player on the list and he comes with plenty of fan fare out of the OHL, finishing second in league scoring this season with the London Knights.  I don't think he would be moving up to the NHL any time soon in the Devils organization, but at least he would be a good piece of the puzzle for down the road.

What I Said Last Year, At This Time...

I get the feeling that the Devils have less to stand on in the upcoming 2015 season, compared to the 2014 season that just finished. New Jersey made one hell of an effort to come back from a really slow start to the year, but didn't make it. I can't see the Devils being as strong as they were in the later part of the year, since they are relying on a lot of aged players and some talent that may not have adequate help. Their salary cap numbers are not going to make them competitive in the free agent market, which will set this team behind even further. I can see the Hurricanes and Islanders move past the Devils in 2015 and New Jersey might be in the thick of the Connor McDavid sweepstakes next Summer.

To the Devils' credit, they stuck in the wild card race a lot longer than my prediction would have warranted in the year, but at the end, they were in the thick of the Connor McDavid race, especially since the odds were less in Buffalo's favour than anyone elses.  Okay, sure... the Islanders weren't below the Devils, far from it, but who saw their moves coming, right?  The Devils were able to clean up their books a little bit, add some futures and help their cause moving forward.  They definitely weren't as strong in 2015, as they finished 2014, so I will chalk that one up to the good side... most of last year's prediction was decent, I'd say.

The Devils may get a good taste of picking high in the Entry Draft this June, so they may stay the course in July, sign some of the bargain basement free agents to fill out the roster and then try to play for another high pick in the 2016 draft as well.  Unfortunately for a guy like Cory Schneider, the team around him is going to feel that his season has gone to waste and he still has some long-term ties to the club.  Between Schneider eating a lot of minutes and the team filled with mediocrity, I can see the Devils missing the playoffs by a bunch, but not being the worst team in the league, possibly picking in the 6-to-10 range again next Summer.

Zuccarello Out Indefinitely

The New York Rangers have made the announcement this week that forward Mats Zuccarello is now out indefinitely with his upper-body injury and his status for any play in the team's second round match-up against the Washington Capitals is now in doubt.

It is believed that Zuccarello suffered a concussion when he was struck in the head inadvertently by teammate Ryan McDonagh's slapshot in Game 5 against the Pittsburgh Penguins.  He was forced from the game, not to return.  If it is indeed a concussion, Zuccarello will have to go through the league protocol, which would not make him eligible until the weekend, forcing him to miss at least Game 1.

Of course, we're not going to get anything official until after the playoffs or after he returns to the lineup, but even his return to the lineup won't guarantee an official injury report.

In five games in these playoffs, Zuccarello has only managed to pick up 2 assists, which has got to be somewhat of a disappointment for the eight teams that had picked him up in that box.

Box 17 hasn't been the greatest source of points thus far in these playoffs, as Zuccarello's 2 points are only 2 points back of the leaders, Mika Zibanejad of the Senators and Chris Kunitz of the Penguins, both players now eliminated from the playoffs.

An updated list of injuries can be found here.

Capitals Advance, Bolts Force Seven

 photo islandersbooted.gifI finally found the boot!  One of my favourite playoff gifs is back.  I like the New York Islanders, so I kind of feel bad that they're the first ones to get the boot, but them are the breaks, as I say.

The Washington Capitals put on a pretty solid defensive show in Game 7, as they held the Islanders to only 11 shots throughout regulation time and there was no need for any overtime, as Evgeny Kuznetsov scored a pretty goal midway through the 3rd period, which held up to be the winning goal in a 2-1 Game 7 victory for the Capitals.

Braden Holtby had a reasonably easy night, making only 10 saves for the win and he was the only notable pool player in this game, picking up the 2 points.  Kuznetsov, who scored the winner, was another one of those borderline players that didn't quite make the cut, despite a late push in the season.

With the elimination of the Islanders, 51 selections are struck from active duty in the hockey pool, the largest loss in the Eastern Conference, thus far.  John Tavares and Josh Bailey were the most popular players taken from the Islanders, as they were both taken eight times between the 36 teams in the pool.

Tavares didn't disappoint, except when it counted in Game 7, as he led the Islanders with 7 points through those seven games, which included a game-winner on his credit.  Jaroslav Halak, not taken at all in the pool, finished with his 3 wins and 6 points, but that didn't do anyone any good.

The Capitals now move on to face the New York Rangers, with this series likely starting on Thursday.

Heading back to the Joe, down 3-2, appeared to be a pretty daunting task from the outset for the Tampa Bay Lightning, but they took their uphill climb in stride and then passed it in the fast lane.

Tampa got off to an early lead, as Tyler Johnson took his team on his back, scored the opening goal of the game and then scored the 3-0 goal, early in the 2nd period as well.  This helped propel his team through Game 6, giving his team a buffer to weather a mid-game comeback from the Red Wings.  The Lightning, up 3-2 in the 3rd, managed to snag a late marker and an empty-netter, topping the old vets, 5-2, forcing Game 7.

Johnson's pair, included the game-winner, giving him a 3-point night in Game 6, while Ben Bishop, although shaky at times, picked up 2 points.  Quietly, in the shadows, Nikita Kucherov also had a 3-point game, adding a few helpers to his team's cause, assisting on each of the Bolts' first three goals.

For the Red Wings, Tomas Tatar picked up a pair of goals, giving his only Box 15 supporter a nice treat in Game 6.

Along with the resurfacing of the boot, how about a new graphic, illustrating the race for top spot in the pool?

It's a pool newcomer at the top of the heap with only one game left in the opening round of the playoffs, as Sairosh M. has opened up a 4-point lead, now with 105 points and he is one of five teams with 21 players left on his active squad and will certainly lose some players with the finish of the Tampa/Detroit series, as he has two of each on his team, going into Game 7.

Tony D., who had a disappointing finish to the draft, sits in 2nd place, with 101 points, but he has only 14 players and he is hoping that Tampa Bay makes it through or he'll be down to 11 players with three rounds of hockey left to go.

Another newcomer to the pool, David C., he has the only other team in triple-digits to this point, sitting at 100 points and 17 players left, and he has two Red Wings and one Lightning player on his side, leaning towards a Detroit win to keep his team in better shape moving forward.

Game-Winning Goals
New Playoffs Game Winner ButtonTony C., one of the Tyler Johnson supporters out there, picked up his 10th GWG of the playoffs, taking a commanding lead in the column... okay, it's a 2-point lead.  Seven teams now had 8 bonus points to their name, while another two teams have 7 bonus points with one night left to go in the opening round.

Johnson, Duncan Keith and Vladimir Tarasenko are the only three players in the hockey pool to have 2 GWG's each and one of them is now eliminated from the playoffs, so his participation in this paragraph will solely be based on the other two players not scoring any more bonus points in these playoffs... or anyone else scoring more than two, for that matter.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Player Notes in the Draft (Apr 27)

This Tampa Bay/Detroit series is running a little long, isn't it?  Well, it just seems like it.  The Lightning are behind the 8-ball going into Game 6 and they'll be really hooked, since they'll be playing Game 6 at Joe Louis Arena, home of the Red Wings.  The match-up is expected to be the same as it has been, Ben Bishop in net for the Bolts and Petr Mrazek in for the Wings.

2010 version of the Game Seven match-up button photo gameseven2010.gifThe Islanders and Capitals are heading to Game 7 and it's the only one of the opening round, which the pool may have predicted with how close the selections were in the pool.  As expected, it will be Jaroslav Halak against Braden Holtby and the winner will go on to face the New York Rangers, a suitable prize for the winner, right?

Pool Outlook for Carolina

The Carolina Hurricanes have not been in the playoffs since the 2009 season and they just seem to be spinning their wheels in the big picture sense, as they just can't seem to get any traction with their roster or their draft picks or their coaching staff.  With some of their decisions, you would think they would be much closer to the playoffs by now, in the last six seasons, than sitting in 26th overall in the NHL standings and going into another off-season with more questions than answers.

The Hurricanes were a shaky bunch heading into the 2015 regular season, especially with Jordan Staal on the mend from a broken leg, something that cost the forward the first half of the season.  The lack of depth in their organization really came to bite them in the rear end, as they were not ready to fill that void with the roster of players that they had.

Some underperforming, highly paid players were also very problematic and there might not be an immediate solution to that problem, but the team could definitely do well to at least work around that lump on the payroll.  Hey, Alex Semin... I didn't mention your name there.  Oh, wait... oops!

In the draft pool this year, 11 players, who finished the season as Hurricanes, were taken in the pool at one point or another and only six belonged to an active roster by the time the season finished.  There wasn't a lot of scoring to be had out of the Hurricanes and it really showed, both in the skaters up front and the goaltending not getting any help for wins.

There's no surprise here, as Eric Staal has been one of the most consistent players in the Eastern Conference, but it's a shame that his team cannot say the same.  The biggest let down for Staal this year was his team, as they were not able to provide him much help in the scoring department and when the going got tough for playoff spots, teams were able to put their best defense against Staal's line and he would disappear from the scoresheet for games at a time, limiting his overall production to 23 goals and 54 points in 77 games.  Already with a Stanley Cup ring on his hand, he is still a pretty good player to build a franchise around, but management have yet to really land anyone big to help him out of the basement.

Just how bad was it for Staal?  For pool worthy forwards this past season, the top 184, Staal finished 67th, while Elias Lindholm finished 132nd, Victor Rask was 176th and Jeff Skinner was 183rd.  That's some very bottom end kind of help.  Lindholm finished with 39 points, which is a pretty low total to be finishing the season with, as the team's second best forward.

Justin Faulk had a breakout year on defense, finishing 12th among blueliners in scoring with 15 goals and 49 points, but he was sort of left above everyone else on his team, as John-Michael Liles ranked 80th, the last pool worthy defender on the team, with 22 points in 57 games, being a healthy scratch from time to time.

It was a 22-win season for Cam Ward in 2015, but you could hardly say it was a return to form for him, as the team in front didn't give him a lot some nights.  Ward was back to taking a lot of mintues though, which is good for the team, as they still have a number one goalie in their system.  Anton Khudobin barely figured to be a pool worthy back-up, winning 9 games and earning a shutout for 20 points in the season as well, but it was pretty rough for him.

2016 Pool Outlook

The Hurricanes haven't exactly proved that they are ready to take the hockey pool by storm, but a couple players that suffered some injuries through the 2015 season might make their way back into relevance in 2016, assuming they are not to get hurt again.  If you're late to the starting goalie boat, you'll probably be in line for Ward, as I don't think with the team that they have, on paper, is going to win as many more games than they did this past season.  If they are going to see an increase in pool participation, they'll need some more help from management.

The Hurricanes played seven players that will still have rookie status in 2016, but none of them really had much of an impact in 2015 to really warrant a good look for next season.  2014 1st round pick, Haydn Fleury, will get a look in camp, but being a defenseman and only 18 years old, he may go back to juniors before too long.  I don't think there will be much of a rookie crop for the Hurricanes next season... or a bountiful crop, anyways.

Free Agency and the Salary Cap

The Hurricanes are not in any salary cap trouble going into this off-season, as the projected $71.1 million ceiling may not even be attainable as a goal.  They currently have 27 players on their signed roster, with disclosed cap hits, and they are still $10.1 million away from that projected total and I couldn't see a lot of these guys playing next season on a full time basis.

Restricted free agency has a few forwards that will require some attention, as Riley Nash, Andrej Nestrasil and Chris Terry, who all featured mildly well in 2015, will all need new deals.  There isn't a lot of money to be tied up there, so the cap ceiling won't have any fingerprints from those kids.

Forward Patrick Dwyer, who played in 71 games, leads the way in unrestricted free agency, which is a very shallow pool when we start here.  There's nothing too pool worthy to speak of here.

Needs at the 2015 Entry Draft

The Hurricanes could pride themselves on their depth on defense in their stocks and they do have a number of goaltenders to work from as well, so in the opening round of the Entry Draft, it seems like a certainty that they'll look for a forward in the 5th spot.  With Ryan Strome falling down through my selections thus far, I think the Hurricanes have a no-brainer on their hands, as Strome had played really well, even with his teammate, Connor McDavid, off at the World Juniors or hurt.  Getting a little bit more scoring will definitely go a long way for Carolina, who is in desperate need of it.

What I Said Last Year, At This Time...

As for the 2015 season, the Hurricanes will see some improvement on their 83-point season the year before and I think they will be active in the off-season markets, which could very well give a hand to the Staal's, Skinner and Semin up front and hopefully solidify their goaltending situation in the back. With that being said, they will still be in tough on a Wild Card spot in the playoffs, as the Eastern Conference remains pretty tight and teams above them still seem to be improving, so it will have to take a monster off-season for them to really make that push. If Francis and company can make that push, sign a big name or two in the free agent frenzy, we will see the Hurricanes push.

I didn't think the Hurricanes could do worse than 83 points in the regular season standings, but there they went... 71 points.  The Hurricanes, like the rest of the Eastern Conference basement dwellers, fell well out of parity and dropped well below expectations.  They were definitely in tough for the playoffs, as they were out pretty early.  They were not able to make a big push in the off-season last year, as a number of high profile players headed to better markets.  Yeah, my expectations of the Hurricanes were definitely too high.

For 2016, the Hurricanes are going to need a whole lot more than a kid like Ryan Strome to get their train back on the tracks or even back to being somewhat competitive.  No, with the free agent pool being as shallow as it is, their plethora of young defenseman still developing at various stages of the minors and juniors, the veteran core of the team, most of which under-performed last year, will need a big boost or a re-shuffle before they get to that point again.  The only way Carolina proves to make a name for themselves this year, is if they manage to snake a deal or two, much like the Islanders did before the 2015 season, scooping a couple big players from teams in salary cap trouble.  As doubtful as that seems, I would look for the Hurricanes at the bottom again.

Two Elimination Games, Two Eliminations

Being behind the 8-ball didn't suit the St. Louis Blues at all, as the Minnesota Wild knocked off the Central Division winner, thanks to some spotty defense and the goaltending controversy looming large.

The Wild capped off a 4-2 series win with a 4-1 win in Game 6 at home.  Devan Dubnyk made 30 saves for his fourth win of the playoffs, while Zach Parise added a couple of goals to help lead the way in the win.

The Blues were huge favourites in this series in the pool, as their selections were 89-26 better than the Wild's, so the eliminations are a pretty big upset in the pool.  David Backes was picked the most on the sheet, taken 14 times, while T.J. Oshie was taken 13 times.  Five Blues players on the sheet hit double-digits in selections.

In the scoring department, the Blues were going the right way offensively, as Vladimir Tarasenko led all St. Louis players with 9 points in six games, while Kevin Shattenkirk picked up 8 points in those same six games.

The Ottawa Senators have been behind the 8-ball already for a couple of games, taking their act back to the Canadian Tire Centre, where they won their first game down 3-0.  Unfortunately, Carey Price and the Montreal Canadiens had other ideas, as tonight was going to be the night that the storied franchise moved on to another round of playoff hockey.

It was a well-contested game yet again, the Senators falling behind by a goal midway through the first made things difficult, but they really stuck in and kept plugging away.  The best goalie in the league was the only thing separating the Senators from Game 7, because the Canadiens couldn't salt a 2-0 goal away until an empty-netter as time ran out.

Price ended up making 43 saves for the shutout victory, picking up 4 points, while Brendan Gallagher scored the opening goal, which ended up being the winning goal.

The Senators were 78-23 underdogs into this series, so it doesn't come as a huge surprise, nor a large upset, that they lost in this series.  Clarke MacArthur and Erik Karlsson were the co-leaders in selections in this pool, each taken five times.

Craig Anderson came into the Senators crease in relief of Andrew Hammond, who lost the opening three games, winning a couple games and one of them by a shutout.  Anderson was the best Sens player with 6 points, while four other players left the playoffs with 4 points.

After a couple of eliminations, the hockey pool took a really kicking in the selection department.  That's what the loss of the St. Louis Blues will do to the pool.  No team has 24 players left, so everyone has seen a chunk taken out of their team.  The next best teams now have 21 players left on them and there are only six teams in the pool with one team missing and another four pool teams with 20 players on it.

It has been an extra rough playoffs for Ryan V., who now sits at the bottom of the pool with only 12 players, half his possible roster, left with still two series left to be played in the first round.